Girls Sweet Sixteen opening round: Red Devils can't find Sweet spot: Shooting woes, foul trouble doom Russell against Mustangs

Mar. 13—LEXINGTON — Bella Quinn's 3-point try at the halftime horn seemed destined for its target.

The ball rattled around the rim but fell out.

The outcome followed the pattern of the Red Devils' first half.

Russell missed its first 16 attempts from behind the arc and never seemed to find the shooting stroke in the opening round of the state tournament at Rupp Arena on Wednesday afternoon.

The Red Devils were 12 of 46 from the field, 2 of 21 from 3-point range, and fell behind early to McCracken County. The Mustangs pulled away in the second half for a 50-33 win.

"We were trying to drive gaps and we were trying to get to the basket," Russell coach Mandy Layne said of the in-game adjustments. "We were trying to get Courtney (Fitzpatrick) and Hannah (Sanders) opposite on the low block. It just seemed like one of those nights where we were struggling to make shots. We knew that their length could bother us. They are one of the best defensive teams in the state and you could see that today."

McCracken County coach Scott Sivills entered the contest fully aware of Russell's shooting ability. The zone defense pressured shooters at times but early misses from the Red Devils awarded his team a lead.

"They had four or five kids that shot over 100 3s all year," Sivills said. "I'm not saying we got lucky but we gave up some wide-open looks that they didn't make. It's just part of the game. We've been there before. In the previous game that we lost, we were 4 of 30 from 3. We just asked our kids to maintain intensity and keep their hands up on defense. Rebounding was so key because you can't give up second-chance points. We just found a way to make enough possessions work."

Russell faced an 11-point halftime deficit and took advantage of early Mustang miscues to open the second half. The Red Devils closed within 10 on Shaelyn Steele's free throws but freshman Reagan Hill scored six straight points for McCracken County, who ended the third quarter on a 10-3 run that included the Red Devils' first 3 of the game by Kennedy Darnell.

The Mustangs extended their lead and Russell (28-7) could not get it to single digits the rest of the way.

Hill produced a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds after entering the state tournament with a 4.9 scoring average. McCracken County held a 35-20 rebounding edge.

"I was really happy for Reagan Hill," Sivills said. "She came in and gave us a double-double today. With the way she's been playing, it makes us a different team. We knew all year long she was capable of doing that. She had a terrific game."

The Mustangs' run extended to a 16-3 surge to open the fourth quarter. Steele fouled out with 3:42 remaining in the game and McCracken County sealed the victory at the free throw line.

Russell's rhythm hit an early roadblock after Steele and Quinn both picked up two fouls in the opening frame.

"I thought when we got in foul trouble in the first quarter," Layne said, "it hurt us defensively. We like to play a certain style. I thought we got behind the eight-ball. We couldn't get in any more foul trouble with Bella and Shae having two. We struggled to make shots, which made it even more difficult. It was downhill from there."

McCracken County (30-5) made its third straight appearance in the Sweet Sixteen. Claire Johnson and Mikee Buchanan have learned to embrace the atmosphere at Rupp Arena. Johnson netted a game-high 21 points and hit 12 of 15 attempts from the charity stripe. Buchanan added eight points and six rebounds.

"Three years ago, we didn't play with confidence," Sivills said. "The more you are here, it's more relaxing, especially with Claire and Mikee. I love how they were also coaching on the bench and encouraging our young kids. ... Having them on the floor, it's reassuring. Do your job and play your role like a star."

"We try to remember that this is just a game," Johnson added. "It might be a bigger floor and a bigger stage but it's the game of basketball. It's the same thing every time. We have to learn to play with pressure and do what we can."

The Mustangs closed out quarters well. A string of seven points broke open a 10-8 game to close the first frame. The two teams combined for just 13 points in the second stanza but McCracken County tallied the final six points of the first half.

Steele wrapped up a historic career with 15 points and nine rebounds on Wednesday. Darnell chipped in 11.

Layne's four seniors — Steele, Quinn, Sanders and Fitzpatrick — joined her in the post game press conference and talked about the impact the quartet has made on the program.

"This senior class has been the most successful class to ever come through Russell," Layne said. "Shaelyn and Bella have been part of three region titles. They are all awesome kids. They are great role models and examples (for the other players) to be around. They are all going to be successful people. They leave a lasting legacy."

"I am fortunate to be part of a program like this one," Steele added, "and be a part of three region titles and make it to the state tournament as many times as we have. I am very blessed. I've had a great journey here. I'm so happy to have played with these girls."


Steele 5-15 4-4 9 15

Quinn 0-10 0-0 2 0

Sanders 2-4 0-0 2 4

Darnell 4-12 2-2 3 11

Fitzpatrick 1-1 1-2 3 3

Phipps 0-0 0-0 0 0

Price 0-0 0-0 0 0

Oborne 0-4 0-0 0 0

Troxler 0-0 0-0 0 0

Fielden 0-0 0-0 0 0

Howard 0-0 0-0 1 0

Frasure 0-0 0-0 0 0

Allen 0-0 0-2 0 1

Sharp 0-0 0-0 0 0

Team 0

TOTAL 12-46 7-10 20 33

FG Pct: 26.1. FT Pct: 70.0. 3-point Fgs: 2-21 (Steele 1-6, Quinn 0-6, Sanders 0-1, Darnell 1-5, Oborne 0-3) PF: 19. Fouled out: Steele. Turnovers: 13


Johnson 4-9 12-15 7 21

Skaggs 3-4 0-0 2 6

Hill 5-10 2-2 11 12

Hughes 1-3 1-4 1 3

Buchanan 4-9 0-0 6 8

Swinford 0-0 0-0 0 0

Casebier 0-0 0-0 0 0

Houser 0-0 0-0 0 0

Brison 0-0 0-0 0 0

Reed 0-0 0-0 0 0

Bolen 0-0 0-0 0 0

Preston 0-0 0-0 1 0

Hamilton 0-0 0-0 0 0

Word 0-0 0-0 0 0

Shelbourne 0-0 0-0 0 0

Team 7

TOTAL 17-36 15-21 35 50

FG Pct: 47.2. FT Pct: 71.4. 3-point Fgs: 1-5 (Johnson 1-2, Skaggs 0-1, Hughes 0-1, Buchanan 0-1) PF: 8.

Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 18.

RUSSELL 9 5 7 12 — 33

MCCRACKEN CO. 17 8 13 12 — 50

Officials: John McMillin, Darrell Wilson, Myia Smith